Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Barn Hunt

In our new effort to make training fresh again, Lowell and I are doing something we haven't done in a while - taking in-person lessons with our own dogs again!  Having decided the dogs could use a new activity, we decided to sign up for some barn hunt lessons with Tempo, Cadence, and Fate.  We thought it seemed like a fun option for all of them.  It is a terrier's dream for Tempo.  Cadence has done a bit of nose work in the past and enjoys it, and the physical demands of the sport are within his capabilities.  Fate just likes to do stuff.  Anything.  But, honestly, she tends to be so handler-focused, that an exercise like this where she needs to problem-solve independently is a good thing for her.

For anyone not familiar with barn hunt, it is basically tracking for live rats hidden (in safe, secure tubes) among bales of hay.  Lest anyone worry about the welfare of the rats, rest assured that all the barn hunt rats I have known are also loved family pets who are specifically desensitized to dogs and the tubes, are trained to go in on their own, and most I know are also given the choice on any given day whether or not they want to get in the tube to be the decoy.  I can tell you that the rat our dogs first learned on was so bold that he was trying to reach through the bars of his cage to get to the treats I was giving to my dog inches away.  I like rats.  I've had them as pets.  I wouldn't do any exercise that I felt was traumatic to them.  If you are worried, you can read more about barn hunt rat care here.

The way the terrier and the BCs took to the sport was quite different.  For Tempo, it is pure predation and terrier drive.  Once he saw the rat on the first day, he was hooked, but if anything his arousal and excitement becomes a barrier to him being able to think straight and figure out what is relevant.  His first couple runs tend to have a frantic, unfocused pace.  Rats! Hay! Barn! Smells!  Once he has bounced off every bale of hay a few times, he settles into it better and starts to think.  I think he finds the tube a bit disappointing though.  I think it is a little bit of a let down when he can't see the actual rat, so every now and then the instructor lets him have a little glimpse of the rat, which seems to make him happy.

When Cadence and Fate saw the rat in the cage at the first lesson, they were actually a little disturbed by him.  Once he was in his tube and they didn't have to look at him, they got into it as a nose work exercise though.  There is much less predatory drive at play for these two - instead it is a problem-solving task.  Cadence has done the most nose work, so he is picking the sport up the fastest of any of them.  His barrier right now is building confidence to climb up on the hay bales due to his coordination problems.  I can usually tell now if he thinks the rat is up high, so then I show him a safe way to get on the bales (which I'm told is legal as long as I don't touch him).

I think Fate honestly thought this was all a little bit stupid until halfway through the second lesson, when she finally started to put it all together.  Once the light bulb went on, she started straining to go between hides, so I think she's beginning to like it.

Here is a video of Cadence at his second lesson:

And one of Tempo:

(Lowell is asking if it is legal for him to use his body to block Tempo from attempting to jump straight off the top of the bales of hay - which he had already done once - and to guide him back to a safer climb down.  It was.)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Fresh Start

Wow, coming to my blog site today I realize it is approaching two years since I last made a post!  The reasons behind that I'm sure are varied.  When I started this, I was actively competing in dog sports with multiple dogs, and most of my posts were about those experiences and what I was learning along the way.

While my dogs, and dog training, are still huge parts of my life, competition hasn't been lately.  Dogs aged.  Dogs retired.  Cadence retired prematurely due to a random neurological event, and that more than anything took the wind right out of my sails for quite a while.  I had a lovely new agility prospect in Fate (and still do), but my heart wasn't into the competition anymore.  On weekends, we felt more inclined to stay at home with all the dogs and go for hikes, play in the yard, and do training games, rather than take only two of them off to a trial while the others sat home with only a mid-day bathroom break.

In addition, our training lives changed as well.  After a few years volunteering at the local humane society, we began teaching dog training classes to the public there.  Soon after we both became Certified Professional Dog Trainers, and we started our own training business.  Helping owners and dogs work through often difficult behavioral challenges has become a passion, and I feel grateful and surprised every day about the fascinating road this is leading me on.

Our own dog training never stopped.  We set up agility courses in the backyard.  We teach new tricks.  We continue to reinforce good manners in public.  We try new training challenges.  We meet with other trainer friends for training outings and pick different things to work on.  And we brought new family members of the feathered variety into our home and became fascinated by how they learn as well.  But without the motivation of competition or the ritual of logging and tracking my progress, I felt like things were getting . . . kind of stale.

So, coming back from ClickerExpo 2016 last week, I felt like I needed a new program to clarify my training goals, really start tracking progress again, and pushing myself to work towards a higher performance - whether that means competition (I hope so) or just my own pleasure at watching my dogs' (and birds') successes.  I got some great ideas about how to make sure my daily training stays fresh from my friend Chris's blog, and found a cool new on-line training log being started by the family of some trainer friends that while only in beta version is quite useful already!  I figured with these new ideas and tools, the last piece for keeping me accountable should be also resurrecting this blog, which, even if it is only for my own amusement and interest, is a nice way to see where we've been and where we are going.

So, if you are interested in watching along with my training adventures with some border collies, a terrier, and a couple of parrots, stay tuned, and I'll do my best to get back in this blogging habit.